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White water rafting

Hello Mindanao (my first visit to Southern Philippines)

I had been to several destinations in Luzon and the Visayas on leisure and business trips, but have never ventured to Mindanao. I was thus looking forward to my first visit there with the Foremost Group staff in what was to be our company outing.

Amidst monsoon rains in Metro Manila, we departed via Air Philippines at NAIA Terminal 3 early morning. The take-off was a bumpy ride because of gusty winds but we soon settled down for the hour long flight.

Upon our arrival at Cagayan De Oro (CDO) airport, we were fetched by Darryll Montesa of CDO Bugsay River Rafting (www.bugsayrafting.com) in a blue Starex aircon van and a good thing too because the weather in CDO was quite hot.

First thing to do was to check in at Nature’s Pensionne near the city park, also known as Divisoria because of the weekly Friday and Saturday night markets.

After a 30 minute rest, we were off for lunch and on to our itinerary for the day. From CDO, we took the Davao-Bukidnon Highway from the Alae Junction and proceeded 25 kms. to Brgy. Dahilayan past Camp Phillips and the pineapple fields via Mampayag. En route, we passed by vegetable farms, flower farms and pine forests. The cool mountaintop weather, frequent afternoon showers and warm sunlight were ideal for growing vegetation.

Day One

Hello Mindanao

The Zip Zone at Dahilayan Adventure Park (www.dahilayanadventurepark.com) claimed to be Asia’s longest dual cable zipline at 4,500 feet above sea level on Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. First course was 320 meters plus 150 meters in a sitting position. Except for Ms. Flor our employer, we were all nervous at our first attempt and had to overcome our fear of heights. We were allowed to hold on to the nylon straps which anchored us to the cable above, so that somehow gave us an assurance of safety. After the first lap, we started to enjoy zipping through the air but were not prepared for what was to come later.

You have to take another 4 X 4 off-road ride up the mountain to reach the second course launch pad. Second course was 840 meters long in a face down reclining position with nothing to hold on to. The guides assured us that the cable and outfit we were strapped in could carry up to two tons of weight. After we were hung on the cable by a couple of male staff, we were given a minute to adjust to the feeling of being suspended and had a full view of the mountainside and pinetree tops we would zip down to. We were instructed to spread out our arms like a bird to help slow down our descent, and then to clip them to our sides as soon as we saw the end zone approaching. Then the gates were opened and we were sent on our way with a strong push. I had the advantage of taking off my prescription glasses before my launch for fear of losing them in the fall, hence I couldn’t quite clearly see my distance from the ground. All I could feel was the wind rushing through my hair and a patch of green coming up to meet my fall. I had to scream out a couple of times to get rid of my tension and I was on my way. After what seemed like a really long time (a couple of minutes max in real time), I saw a couple of staff at the end zone and I remembered to clip my arms to my sides.

The cable brakes were controlled from their side and with the help of a large metal ladder, we were unharnessed from suspension and brought back to terra firma unharmed.

In a span of like 30 minutes, all 7 of us were back to the main area of the park to claim our certificates and select our souvenir photos for printing. We were offered to claim the 7th ride for free since one of our staff backed out at the last minute (guess who?) but since it started to drizzle, no one dared to claim it.

On our way back to CDO, we stopped over for some refreshments of fresh pineapples and Chinese noodles at Pinutos, an al fresco stopover cum dining area. There was fresh cow’s milk and chocolate milk by the litre in their menu but I was told they sold out every morning so I bought some golf balls as souvenir instead at P 25.00 apiece.

We were all exhausted after an early morning flight and a challenging zipline experience, so everyone opted to sleep early sans dinner.

Day Two

Hello Mindanao

We woke up early to leave for Balingoan Port in Misamis Oriental where we would take the ferry boat that would cross us over to Camiguin Island. There used to be a ferry ride from CDO pier to Camiguin Island which took two hours but we were informed that the owner of the ferry sold the boats and bought amphibians instead to concentrate on city tours via Cagayan River rides so we had to take the alternate route instead. The trip to Balingoan Port took an hour and a half, and we slept for the most part on the hour long ferry ride.

Upon nearing Camiguin Island’s Benoni wharf where we were to dock, we noticed several fishermen on the horizon, an islet surrounded by white beach which had a fishing village and cultured seaweed as a means of livelihood, and some white seabirds flying overhead. We couldn’t help but admire the pristine waters which were incomparable to Manila Bay’s murky waters.

Tatay Junior, a resident of Camiguin who was our tour guide and multicab driver was ready to meet us as soon as we got off the boat.

We rode around the coastal road and checked in at the Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin (www.bahaybakasyunan.com) in Mambajao. The resort was all native inspired with wood, bamboo, coconut husks and nipa shingles incorporated in their interior design, but with an international look. The cottages were located amidst spacious green lawns and landscaped gardens. I am sure Europeans would find the resort most appealing, with a pool at the far end beside the ocean. They have a gift shop, a gym, a game room, a massage room, a jacuzzi, function rooms and the Oceanside Bar & Grill Restaurant which offered an assortment of seafood and drinks in their menu.

Hello Mindanao

First itinerary on the island was a cool dip in the Sto. Nino Cold Springs. A natural pool on the mountaintop, entrance fee was most affordable at only P 20.00 per head. There were souvenir shops outside selling an assortment of novelty items from shirts and swimsuits, to native accessories that included among other things necklaces, earrings, bracelets and decors made of seashells, animal (monkey, bird, fish) bones, claws and teeth, and some dried fish in packs. Home-cooked meals could also be ordered at the nearby houses for lunch. We had fresh fish and native chicken cooked in several viands, and had durian for dessert. Durian which looked like a small brown version of the jackfruit, gives off a pungent smell when ripe but tastes great when eaten fresh.

The pool area had huts and cottages that were rented out to visitors. Ideal time to bathe in the cold springs are morning to 4 in the afternoon, and it is interesting to note that the pool which has a natural floor of rocks and sand has some interesting fish species swimming around.

We left the cold springs to transfer to Ardent Hibok-Hibok Hot Spring Resort late in the afternoon and stopped by the church ruins in Bonbon, Catarman and the sunken cemetery along the way.

The church ruins were what remained of the first settlement in Camiguin when the volcano erupted in the late 1800s. Near the monastery ruins, a century tree stands as a silent witness to the passing of time.

The sunken cemetery came about when the eruption caused the shifting of plates and the cemetery area went below sea level. A large cross marker marks the spot where the cemetery now lies underwater. The area has been declared a marine reserve where several species of marine species abound. We crossed shore to have our souvenir photos taken on the marker and the tour guides/boatmen who, according to them were required to take workshops in basic photography, suggested several poses which had the effect of stepping on the mountain or holding the marker in the palm of your hand depending on the angle your photo was taken. According to Jimmy who went swimming to retrieve his snorkel, there were several large colourful fish around.

Entrance fee to the hot spring was again most affordable at P 35.00 per head. The hot spring had therapeutic effects due to the sulphur content (clears skin infection) since it was on Mt. Hibok-Hibok, a dormant volcano. There were now several native cottages to stay in should visitors decide to stay overnight. The only downside here were the mosquitoes that feasted on our heads when we were taking a dip in the natural pool.

Henna tattoos were offered at P 50.00 for the simplest designs in the souvenir shops outside the entrance to the hot spring.

We went back to our resort at around 7 in the evening and after a delicious dinner at the Oceanside Bar & Grill Restaurant, we stayed on for a couple of hours in the swimming pool for night swimming.

Day Three

Hello Mindanao

We woke up early on Saturday morning to make the most of our half day schedule on White Island (sandbar actually), a 10 minute boat ride from shore.

Hello Mindanao

Crystal blue waters, sandy swimming area to one side, and a marine reserve on the other side makes for an ideal waterhole. Large, colourful beach umbrellas and snorkels are available for rent from walking entrepreneurs (locals), and sea urchins are sold by the piece as local delicacy on the sandbar. On the background is the verdant Camiguin Island, specifically Mt. Hibok-Hibok. We took our time soaking in the sun and taking several dozen jump shots! Thank God for digital cameras or we would have emptied our ATMs for photo development expenses.

After checking out of the resort at noontime, we went to J & A Fish Pen near Benoni Wharf for lunch before taking the ferry back to CDO at 3 in the afternoon.

Hello Mindanao

The fish pen in fact had several fish pens from where you could order your choice of seafood for home-cooked meals. There were large crabs, several varieties of fish, and a lobster the day we were there. A group of tourists had the 3.5 kilo lobster cooked. After sneaking into the kitchen where the meal was being prepared for some perfunctory shots, I learned it cost P 1,800.00 per kilo which meant the group had to pay around P 7,000.00 for the lobster alone!

Back in CDO, we had dinner at the Divisoria night market where the streets were closed off from traffic. Several tents were set up and grilled food the main highlight. There were also several stalls offering bags, shoes, clothes and other items as souvenirs.

Day Four

We left Nature’s Pensionne at 8 in the morning on Sunday for a jeepney ride up the border between Bukidnon and CDO to reach the starting point for white water rafting.

Hello Mindanao

Darryll, our guide, informed us that our group was lucky to be starting off from the advanced course area which meant we would be enjoying several more rapids as opposed to the basic course which generally meant small rapids and plenty of still water.

After donning our gear, and a short briefing on how to paddle and what to do if a crew fell overboard, all 9 of us (7 staff and two guides that included Darryll) boarded our raft and pushed off for a 3 hour ride down Cagayan River, and an hour stop over for lunch.

First half was a bit of an adjustment to the rough waves and a bit of history along the way. We were dowsed in the cool brown waters of the river which was a pleasant relief against the scorching heat of the sun. Several tributaries and water sources were pointed out by our guides along the way.

After a sumptuous meal of grilled fish, shrimps, chicken and pork, and some fresh pineapple for dessert, we pushed on with the other half of the ride down Cagayan River. When we came to some still waters, we jumped overboard to take a swim.

Further down, our guides pointed out Snake Wall which was so named because the mountain wall was pockmarked by holes and sparse vegetation which was home to several snakes. True enough, there were several shed snakeskin caught up in some of the bushes and the photographer Mark Aldea from CDO Bugsay River Rafting was able to photograph a yellow and black snake high up in some branches overhanging the wall!

We finished up around 1 in the afternoon and after a quick shower at the end camp, we went back to the city for some last minute shopping and an early dinner at Bigby’s!

All in all, we were able to make the most of our four days in Mindanao. I sure am looking forward to a return visit to Camiguin Island next year. And a second try at the zipline if I can convince some other first timers to try it!

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